Feeling Lost?

 

Imagine you are hiking through the woods trying to get to the nearest town. But you are lost and confused and you feel like you are walking in circles. It’s been weeks, and you are just as deep in the woods today as you were when you thought of your first brilliant game plan to get out of there asap!

Fortunately for you, you meet a guide in the woods. He explains that if you take this trail, it’ll lead you to a crossroads in a clearing where there will be a sign explaining which direction to go next to get to town. He hands you a backpack full of things you need to survive and thrive during this journey. A compass, a canteen with fresh water, a flashlight, bug spray, matches, and even a walkie talkie! He assures you that he knows these woods well, and he’ll always have his walkie talkie on him if you ever have any questions. You are overjoyed at his help!  You are feeling awesome about this journey and confident that you will get to the next clearing soon. Off you go.

The first few days you do pretty well. The trail is as clear as the sky and you barely break a sweat. You gleefully use your compass, and even walkie talkie your guide to see if the berries you’ve stumbled across are safe to eat (you’ve seen Hunger Games-you aren’t taking any chances). A short time passes and you stop using the contents in your backpack-you think you know the drill pretty well by now! But shortly after, the way starts to get more difficult. You are constantly swarmed by six legged pests, trapped in prickly thickets, covered in mud and blood, and oh so weary. Day after day you continue on, wondering if you are lost, confused why the way is so treacherous, and losing hope that you’ll ever get to that clearing. The nearest town feels farther away now than it ever has.

And then, one moment while lapping up muddy stream water for a drink, scratching a bug bite the size of a melon on your leg, and trying to find the best rock flint to start a fire with later tonight, you remember the backpack you’ve been given. You feel like an idiot. You have all these resources to help the journey, and you have been ignoring them! The trail would still have been difficult, but if you would have used what was given to you, much pain, discomfort, and discouragement could have been avoided.

I feel like I am on a pretty difficult journey right now. I look forward with hopeful expectation to one day getting out of the woods, but for now I am just looking for the next clearing-a crossroads that will show me the next step. I have a Guide who is brilliant, and loving, and perfect, and always accessible. He has given me tools while journeying to best survive-His Word-a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path, the precious gift of communication with God through prayer, the joy and comfort of worshipping  the giver of the stream of living water that will never run dry, godly counsel– who through knowing and loving the Guide well for years can impart wisdom and comfort that will help protect me from all kinds of harm, and so much more.

Yet I far too often journey with a backpack full of items not being used. I keep the fresh canteen in my bag and drink the dirty water the world offers.

As believers we must use the tools the Lord has given us. They are for our own good, and yet we ignore them? The ramifications of doing so are personal and foolish yes, but also what does it say to our fellow travelers who don’t have a “backpack”? It says that they are pointless and they are worthless, and no wonder they don’t ask where it came from-they don’t see us value what’s inside!

So friend, passionately use the tools God has given you to get through this life. It may still be very difficult, but He has graciously given us exactly what we need to navigate every step, every day. And maybe, as you obediently depend on the graces that God has given you, He will bring other travelers in your life who need the see the blessings that knowing the Guide brings-what a joy that is!

Why Did God Save Noah?

NOah

I praise the Lord that like many of you readers, I grew up in a Bible teaching, gospel loving church. And I am sure that if you would have asked me about the story of Noah I could have echoed it back to you-flannel graph and all. If you would have pressed me, “Why did God preserve Noah’s life?” my answer would have sounded something like this:

“Well, all the rest of mankind was evil and wicked in every way, but Noah was righteous. Noah didn’t sin or lust or disrespect Yahweh, but instead tried to obey, love, and honor Him. God saw this good behavior and when deciding to punish all the evil men, he rewarded Noah’s obedience and preserved his life via the ark!”

Right?

Would you have said that too?

Would you have taught the lessons with a concluding statement of, “So even if everyone around you is sinning, YOU need to be good so that you too can sail away from God’s wrath and be safe from his righteous judgment”? If so, what that is teaching us is that God saved Noah because of what Noah was doing and not doing. Genesis 6:8 tells us

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

So my question is, is that concluding statement the point of the story? Did he “find favor” after he was being well behaved and doing all the “right things?” Is that when God’s eyes lit up at the sight of Noah? Or maybe because he was the smartest or the bravest or the most committed? Is that when God “finds favor” with us?

No.

Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord not when he was obedient, but LONG before. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord before time dawned when the Trinity predestined him to be able to obey and have righteousness and please God and desire to do God’s will above his own. The order of events was not:

Noah’s righteousness –>            God’s favor —>              Noah’s Salvation

But instead…

God’s favor –>                              Noah’s Salvation –>                     Noah’s Righteousness

See the only reason Noah was seen as virtuous and blameless was because of GOD’S GRACE in his life empowering him to be that. His works of righteousness is a response to being found favorable in God’s eyes, not the other way around. And this is reason to rejoice! This truth makes God so much better! It is not that He is watching his people, searching feverishly for someone righteous to reward-he would NEVER find anyone-we are all naturally so self-glorifyingly wicked! Instead, he has graciously chosen to make people righteous in his eyes for His perfect plan and because of His lavish love!

Why did God save Noah? It’s the same reason why God saved you.

Friends, we should be the most grateful of all people. God does not love you because of your good works. He did not save you because of any potential He saw in you or any desirable attributes you have. It is all grace.  And therefore, He does not forsake you because of your shortcomings. He is not surprised by your failings or regretful of his decision to make you His child and heir. The love in God’s eyes when he looks at us is not based on our performance, but based off of his beautiful, gracious favor and kindness.

Titus 3:5 “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,”

Is God Better Than My Imagination?

So…recently I’ve been lonely. Not, “I don’t have friends or anyone to talk to lonely”-I’m blessed with amazing, loving friendships and family members, but that sort of “I desire a daily companion- loneliness”. I want a person that knows me. All of me. And that I can process my daily events and ponderings with.  One day when recognizing this yearning in my soul (sorry if that sounds dramatic) I remembered that God is my ultimate companion, and that any desire I have for companionship in this life is but a shadow of the deepest, most fulfilling, indescribable companionship found in the perfect person of our Triune God.

So I decided to try and imagine God as my companion.

I sat down to my dinner of delicious leftovers and asked Him the first question I would ask an earthly companion which was “How was your day?”

I imagined God sitting with me, eating dinner…well…not really Him eating…just me, and him just being there, telling me about the best and worst parts of His day.  With a twinkle in His eye He told me of a beautiful concerto Bach had written in heaven today, and how he had just discovered how to use chord progressions to move buildings.  So the structure they were in was spinning as he was playing! “You’ll love it when you get here! It’s wild!”  He told me about a teenager in Cambodia who was just born again-and the eruption from the angels when it happened!

He told me about a hard part of his day too. “There is a daughter of mine in Mississippi who has prayed to me for 3 years for a son, and I keep telling her no. In fact, today she got back the negative results from in vitro and she cried and cried and cried. It was so painful to hear and see her pain. I moved in the heart of her sisters and friends to call her that day to comfort her, but still I know she is aching.” I asked God why he kept saying no? The answered I imagined him giving blew my mind. “Because in 6 years, the world will be exactly where it needs to be for her son Judah to be born.” I must’ve had a face of panic at the thought of 6 MORE years of heartache for this poor woman, because that’s when I imagined the Lord showing me a little glimpse of His plan.

It appeared before our eyes like a Star Trek-ish computer screen. And the gist of what I imagined Him saying was this: “See I need him born when this, this, this, this, and this has already happened, but I need to move in these people, this country, and this university before that can begin…then at this time I’ll put him here and he will fulfill THIS plan I have for his life. It’s beautiful. It is perfect. As much as I hate to see her cry, I KNOW that my plan is flawless, and I literally cannot have him born ONE day earlier.”

complicated

I imagine it sort of looking like this!

After that conversation, He asked me about my day and I imagined little comments He would respond back with, and questions He would ask. I rambled about different life things and imagined his lighthearted and comical responses. It was an enjoyable time! So enjoyable in fact, that I did that same sort of thing a few days later on Easter, when I took a walk and imagined talking with Him about random reflections and thoughts on the resurrection.

Harmless, right?

Well that’s what I thought until I realized that the god that was answering my questions and responding to me and laughing at all my witty remarks, sounded a lot like Betty. In fact…that god  thought my questions were interesting and barely ever talked about his own holiness or my sinfulness or the gospel really at all. And for that week, I had started to replace God with this imaginary god.

And it makes sense why I started to do that. Because that god is comfy and very relatable and addresses my particular, everyday situations. But that god is not God. That is simply my made up thoughts. My God, my True God, is not hiding in the nooks and crannies of my imagination, but boldly standing in every word, line, and page of the inerrant Scriptures. And that is where I need to CONSTANTLY be in order to live my life in a way that pleases God. As entertaining/fun as it may be to imagine God and how He would respond, that should NOT ever be my first line of defense against anything.  God’s word is all sufficient. In it’s pages lie the revelation of who God is, what He likes, dislikes, how He responds, why He responds, and through it I have the privileged to deeply get to know God. Me! Know God! It’s foolish to depend on my imagination and be more thrilled by that, than by the true character and nature found in Scripture of this mind-blowing, Betty-loving, good and sovereign, abundantly gracious, infinitely creative, joyful, righteous, perfect King, Friend, and Savior.

So don’t just depend on your mind, imagination, or previous knowledge about God in your relationship with Him. We must steadfastly be in His word to not be led astray by any false gospels, or simply entertained with weak caricatures of a god that we can comprehend. Don’t go to bed tonight without reading The Book and reflecting on what it teaches you about who God is-because He is bigger and better than anything we could ever imagine.

Pinterest, Einstein, and Cupcakes

I saw this pin on Pinterest (a VERY reliable source) that quotes Albert Einstein in saying, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Quote: If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough. - Albert Eistein ||| Keep it simple.

And I really like this quote because I see this challenge every week when I teach a bible lesson to my Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders in Awana. I have to take what I know and love about depravity, election, propitiation, and the metanarrative of Scripture and boil it down to truth that their baby teeth can chew.

Last week was a lot of fun at Awana. After “Game Time”, I asked “Snack Time” to be postponed and quickly funneled them all into “Lesson Time”. After singing a few choruses with them, I stood in front of about twenty 5-7 year olds and began slowly eating a delicious looking snack time cupcake.

Every single adorable eye was glued on me and that cupcake as I took bite after bite. I asked them (with a mouth full of cake) “Are you guys a little hungry?” They all nodded their little heads quickly. “Do you wish you could have a cupcake?” “Yes, uh hu, oh yes” they responded. With their eyes still glued on me I asked, “Wouldn’t we all feel pretty awful if I had cupcakes for myself but not for any of you guys tonight? That I didn’t have enough to share? And there was no way I could get more?” Their audible groans and looks of terror and panic filled the room. I broke character; they are too cute to torment! I quickly explained that luckily I have PLENTY of cupcakes to share, and everyone can have one. As they delightedly were handed their chocolate cupcakes with green icing and sprinkles I read from the Jesus Storybook Bible, the story of Jesus Feeding the 5,000.Crème de Menthe Frosting (for St. Patty's Day) ~    Here's a delightful recipe you can make for Saint Patrick's Day.   Start with a chocolate cake mix and prepare two dozen cupcakes according to the package directions. Use green or holiday-themed liners to add some fun!  Recipe @  http://www.susannahskitchen.com/2012/03/recipe-creme-de-menthe-frosting.html

Afterwards, we talked about the details of the story, making sure they were listening and comprehending, and how fortunately there was enough food for everyone there to eat (hence the purpose behind the cupcake torture). Then I reminded them of a basic hermeneutical truth (though I haven’t taught them that word yet) and that was to find out what the passage is saying about God.

I reminded them that this is not a story primarily about sharing– the little boy is not who we should walk away talking or thinking about. Though sharing is a good thing I don’t want kids to go home and tell their parents that that is the thing they learned from the Bible tonight. Instead we should see two awesome, amazing, wonderful things-:1.)the deity of Christ (KIDS,-JESUS IS GOD! LOOK AT THAT MIRACLE!) and 2.) the provision of God the Father (HE WILL ALWAYS GIVE YOU WHAT YOU NEED! IF YOU DON’T HAVE IT YOU DON’T NEED IT!)

And I go back to good ol’ Albert’s quote that I mentioned in the beginning to say that each time I teach I am wonderfully challenged with how to teach God’s truths to these beautiful, young minds. I want to make sure that I am not just promoting moralism, but that I understand how the gospel permeates and interweaves into every inch of Scripture and of life.  And that is a lesson I think we ALL need to hear. As you are (and I am!) in the Word, remember to not just think about “what’s in this for me?” though of course that is important, but to first ask, “What does this teach me about God?” and then praise Him for that thing!

(p.s. this is a great website for lesson help! http://ministry-to-children.com/lessons/)

Sight and Sound and C.S. Lewis

Earlier this week I had lunch with a friend who had just seen Moses at Sight and Sound. For those of you who do not know, Sight and Sound is the largest faith-based live theater in the country. It has been called the “Christian Broadway” and resides right here in our very own Lancaster County. I had already heard amazing tidbits about the show from other people, and was looking forward to hearing about her experience. Imagine if when I asked her about the show, her eyes lit up, and instead of talking about the majestic set, stunning orchestration, and breathtaking special effects, she responded to my questions like this:

Oh Betty! It was so wonderful! What a great experience! I just couldn’t believe how comfortable the seats were! They were so plush and with plenty of leg room!

Well, that’s great”, I would respond. “But what about the show? What about the burning bush? How did they part the Red Sea? Tell me about the costumes and the songs and the dances!

Those were fine and good…but Betty, these seats! Wow! They even had arm rests, and get this…cup holders! I didn’t have to hold my drink!” Chair

 

You can imagine my perplexed face if this is what she would have said. You can understand how confused I would be by her, and how silly her response would seem to me. Actually, more than it being silly, it would seem foolish. Why would anyone delight in the joy and comfort of a seat more than that of the show? Your purpose in going is to see the grandeur and awesomeness of the musical-the chair is for your comfort yes, but if that is what you walk away thankful for and thinking about-you have wasted your time and money.

Here is my point.

This is the same thing we do in our Christian walk. We get so impressed and excited about little trinkets here on earth that are meant for our comfort and pleasure-yes, but we are missing the point of our existence. There is a complexly beautiful, awe-inspiring, mind-blowing, delight-bearing, production of the glory, power, faithfulness, goodness, sovereignty, foreknowledge, and supremacy of God going on right before our very eyes, and we are impressed with a cup holder. We are so enamored by comfort that we are numbing our eyes to see the majesty for which we were created.

C.S. Lewis says is best in The Weight of Glory:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

So what we need to do is take our eyes off the cup holder, stop being so excited about the comfort of our chair, and look up. Look up and soak in what were were created to truly delight in.